By the Skin of My Teeth – Idiom, Origin & Meaning

Photo of author

Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

You’ve heard of close shaves, but have you heard of surviving by the skin of your teeth? I know, when you really think about it, the phrase doesn’t make much sense. But I promise, it’s real and more common than you think. But I’ll break down its meaning and a bit about its origin so you understand how to use it in a sentence.

Meaning of By the Skin of One’s Teeth

By the Skin of My Teeth Idiom Origin Meaning

When we say someone did something by the skin of their teeth, we mean that they narrowly succeeded or escaped from some kind of bad situation. It’s about a close call, a near miss, or achieving something by the tiniest margin.

I’m not great at math; I write words for a living. So, when I was in high school, I somehow managed to get the lowest possible passing grade in math (I’m pretty sure my teacher took pity on me). You could say I made it through math by the skin of my teeth!

Origin and Etymology Behind Skin of My Teeth

Skin of My Teeth Ngram
Skin of my teeth usage trend.

Surprisingly, this idiom has biblical origins. It’s from the Book of Job in the Old Testament. In Job 19:20, Job says, “My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.” Now we use the phrase by the skin of my teeth in pretty much the same way.

The Skin of One’s Teeth Synonyms

If you’re looking for different ways to express this razor-thin margin, check out these synonyms that carry a similar intent.

  • By a hair’s breadth
  • By a narrow margin
  • By a whisker
  • Just barely
  • Nearly
  • Just about
  • Hardly

By the Skin of My Teeth Examples in a Sentence

By the Skin of My Teeth Idiom Origin Meaning 1

Now that we’ve broken it down, let’s look at how we can use this phrase in various contexts.

  • I passed the math exam by the skin of my teeth.
  • She caught the last train home by the skin of her teeth.
  • “Did you make the cut?” she asked him. “Just by the skin of my teeth!” Mark replied.
  • He managed to catch the flight by the skin of his teeth.
  • She got the promotion by the skin of her teeth; it was a really tight competition.
  • John was saved from the accident by the skin of his teeth.
  • By the skin of his teeth, he avoided the falling tree branch.
  • My son’s soccer team won the championship by the skin of their teeth.
  • Listen, by the skin of your teeth, you dodged that issue at work today.

Smile; You Made It!

Now, you can comfortably use by the skin of my teeth in your day-to-day conversations and marvel at the rich history behind this idiom. And remember, whenever you stumble upon a phrase you don’t understand, don’t grit your teeth in frustration. Just swing by our site, and all your language mysteries will be solved!